Last year I gave a testimonial to a new small-group Carla Bley album that featured a uber-talented Italian trumpeter by the name of Paolo Fresu. But as good as Fresu is, he's not yet the king of Italian jazz trumpet players.
That's because Enrico Rava is still wearing the crown.
Like Fresu, Rava played for Bley — as well as Gato Barbieri and Steve Lacy — before striking out on his own in the early seventies. When Rava recorded The Pilgrim And The Stars back in 1975, he already had a couple of records under his belt, but this one began his long association with the prestigious jazz label ECM, one that continues to this day.
As part of ECM's Touchstone Series celebrating this seminal jazz label's 40th year of existence, the label is re-issuing 40 titles from its back catalog. The re-release of The Pilgrim And The Stars this past September 30 is especially notable because it's the first time this album has been available in CD form in the U.S.
For The Pilgrim, Rava employed the talents of the Swede Palle Danielsson on double-bass, Norwegian Jon Christensen on drums, and American John Abercrombie on guitar. Both Danielsson and Christensen have been the most in-demand session players at ECM for their respective instruments for very good reason, and were serving with saxophonist Jan Garbarek in Keith Jarrett's famed "European Quartet" at that the time of this recording.
It's impossible to take in this record without marveling at the young John Abercrombie. Nothing at all against present-day Abercrombie, but back then his playing seemed so fresh and was possessed by a rock temperament. His fragmented, passionate style added an edge as a lead player and a warm, almost Fender Rhodes-like texture as a accompanist. And he effortlessly shifted between both roles at will.
"The Pilgrim And The Stars," the lead-off title track, brings modal jazz principles espoused so well by John Coltrane in the sixties into the next decade. A soft, melodic theme opens the song before it kicks into overdrive with an entirely different chord progression. During this extended, spirited section, Rava's licks are advanced, perfectly-paced and at times, technically astonishing. He weaves and jabs much like Miles Davis did for A Tribute To Jack Johnson five years earlier.